The cry for help came from a new homeowner. She loves her lovely new home but feels everything in the garden is in the wrong place. She wishes to create “a haven for birds and bugs and give it a sense of life.” The plant palette here is far different from Tennessee where she’s from, but she describes herself as enthusiastic and willing to learn. Boy, do I have lots of ideas for her.
Outdoor spaces are just more inviting if they feel like a real room with a ceiling, walls and attractive flooring. An arbor or pergola is a good way to provide a lid on your outdoor space. If you have natural trees in your garden they can shield you from the sky in some areas and open up other areas to passing clouds and sun.
You can achieve a similar effect with groups of potted trees that shade your sitting area. Japanese maples, ornamental plums, cherries or crabapple are just a few of the trees that do well in pots. If you like to grow edibles, plant a fig in a pot to provide some shade.
Creating an outdoor room with vines will make your yard feel cozy. They readily provide the walls to enclose a space. Views from one part of the garden may be partially open, framed by vines or blocked entirely. Shrubs can also be used to create garden rooms but vines form a thin living wall that is quickly established.
Creating boundaries with vines also adds vertical design elements to an otherwise flat landscape. By adding walls and a ceiling to your garden, you’ll be able to enjoy another dimension in addition to more color and fragrance.
The sounds you hear while in the garden are part of the experience, too. The atmosphere just wouldn’t be the same without the sound of rustling grasses, wind chimes or birds splashing about in the bird bath or fountain. Auditory elements can even come from the sound of gravel crunching underfoot as you walk or the wind in the trees.
Texture in the garden refers to the overall visual texture of the plants. Large, bold foliage like Flowering Maple, Pride of Madeira, rhododendron, viburnum, oakleaf hydrangea or hosta make a large garden appear smaller. Soft, fine foliage will make the garden appear larger by giving it the allusion of more space. Examples of finely textured plants include ornamental grasses, Breath of Heaven, ferns and asters. You might use different textured plants in different parts of your garden to get the effect you like.
Blur the garden’s boundaries to make it more interesting. You won’t be able to see the whole garden at one glance if you curve the path behind some shrubs, tall plants or sheer, see-through perennials. Leave some wild areas for the birds and bees to join you. Garden organically and mix in native plants wherever you can to keep the garden healthy.
Garden lighting is another easy way to add atmosphere to your garden. As inviting a space a garden might be during the day it becomes magical at night when lit. Solar lighting has come a long way. Walk your property and decide the most effective spots for lighting.
Pathway lighting can illuminate the driveway, walkways and steps and mark the edges of areas like ponds and patios. Accent lighting can define a space and show off plantings, benches or illuminate a pergola. Spotlights direct the eye up into trees, show off garden art or accent a focal point.
Sound is important too. Ornamental grasses rustle in the wind or add a fountain with running water. An urn fountain with pebbles and plants at the base would be a simple choice. A drilled basalt column fountain or basalt dish fountain would look natural in the forest here.
Your sense of smell is important also to create atmosphere in the garden. In the spring the smell of ceanothus fills the air. Then the stargazer lilies start to bloom followed by lily-of-the-valley, daphne, flowering crabapple, carnation, iris, heliotrope, lavender, alyssum and a couple of roses. By enjoying the fragrance of both flowers and the foliage of salvia, lavender and breath of heaven as I walk the garden I’m able to add another dimension to the garden.
Creating atmosphere in the garden is the art of combining space, time and light to make a garden that reflects who we are. It’s different for every gardener. One person might like straight rows of vegetables while another scatters poppies and nasturtiums randomly. Whatever appeals to you it should be close to your heart and that’s the atmosphere in your garden that’s right for you.
Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California-certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at [email protected], or visit jannelsonlandscapedesign.com.